Ask Skip: How Do You Motivate a Team When Jobs Are Being Cut and Moved Overseas?

All Ask Skip Questions that appear in this blog are actual questions submitted to me directly from blog subscribers or other inquiries that come in through the main website or via my Social Media pages on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook. Feel free to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication”question here!

This a very challenging situation, and quite frankly, it is virtually impossible to motivate people in the type of environment you are asking about. And, it doesn’t matter if jobs are being sent overseas or not, just that they are being cut.

Yet, companies expect people to still come to work and be motivated to perform.

The reason this is virtually impossible is the type of situation described is steeped in “uncertainty.” “Uncertainty” is one of the most debilitating human emotions and it creates fear, which can be paralyzing.

Additionally, this type of situation puts employees at the lowest rung on Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs Motivational Pyramid, where people are focused solely on survival and basic necessities, like food and shelter.

It’s very difficult to be motivated to think about anything else.

Now, on the other hand, this type of environment will motivate people.

It just depends on what you want them to be motivated to do. Most of what it motivates them to do, however, is not conducive to a highly productive work environment, such as:

  1. they will be motivated to look for another job before the axe falls on them,
  2. they may be motivated to undermine their teammates so they can lift themselves up and look good to keep their job at the expense of someone else.
  3. sometimes the fear can be a factor if it is focused on activities that can improve performance so that an individual is seen as a valuable contributor to the company. However, if everyone is viewed as a commodity and the job can be shipped to a lower paid person overseas, then no matter what an individual does will not help. In this situation, in addition to uncertainty, employees also have a sense they have no control over their situation and environment, creating a feeling of “learned helplessness.”

I hope this explains some things as you try to navigate the challenging work environment. Often times, company leaders do not understand this and they just keep trying to crack the whip, putting more and more pressure on the workforce creating a very negative and stressful work environment. Hang in there, and look for new opportunities with other organizations as soon as possible.

’til next time, make it a great day!

If you have an issue you are dealing with in leading your team and/or organization that you would like answered in my “Ask Skip” column, click here to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication” question here and you might just see your question answered here in the coming weeks. I also promise to reply directly so that you get the help you need when you need it.

5 thoughts on “Ask Skip: How Do You Motivate a Team When Jobs Are Being Cut and Moved Overseas?

  1. Eswari Kalugasalam says:

    Navigation during times of uncertainty as you mentioned is very challenging as you pointed out. How do you manage colleagues who “undermine their teammates so they can lift themselves up and look good to keep their job at the expense of someone else,”especially when your focus is giving the best to the organization? Would a leader know that this is the situation and take necessary steps to make sure that this doesn’t happen? If he doesn’t take steps to rectify this, he then loses the respect and the confidence of others in the organisation. Thank you for the great post!

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    I’m pleased you enjoyed this post and appreciate your question. Leaders must stay above the fray and just deal with the facts and observable behavior. Most people who look to undermine their teammates can do so in a number of ways. One is by casting blame on others and another popular one is withholding information that prevents others from effectively doing their jobs.

    As soon as one person casts blame on another a red flag should go up and, if it were me, I would automatically be more suspicious of the person casting the blame. In the withholding of information scenario a leader can easily investigate if this is taking place by interviewing the individuals involved and getting to the real reasons things didn’t get done. It can be a challenge to get to the bottom of the issue, but if the leader maintains an unemotional stance and doesn’t take sides with any of the individuals and just sticks to looking at the facts and the observable behavior that occurred the individual parties have nowhere to turn but to the truth.

    Thanks for stopping by, please come back anytime.

  3. Beverly Haberman says:

    Eswari’s inquiry on how to manage people who are trying to get the “leg up” at someone else’s expense is a great question for any leader/manager. Recently Charlie Rose did an interview with Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally where he talked about how he insisted on openness and candor at each weekly meeting from the beginning of his tenure at Ford. He used the colors red, green, and yellow for people to designate if a job was going well or not. At first he saw too many greens in the reports which told him that his teams were not being authentic and honest. As he encouraged them to be honest he started seeing reds scattered throughout the reports which he loved and celebrated. Why? It all pointed to candor and authenticity from the top down which led to more and more improved results at Ford. But it also led to more and more team interaction and support within and between teams. Leaders set the tone for this type of open communication. If you have an open-communication environment, you, as the leader, will know a hell-of-a lot more about what is really going on with your people. Hope this is useful. Thanks for posting!

  4. Jim Perrone says:

    Yet – these are times of uncertainty – running a non-profit there is much outside of managements control as in “what will the state or county do next”, “will funding be cut” and “will there be enough business to sustain as grant funding gets cut” – how can management best work with a workforce when a lot of the uncertainty is external and not in managements control? I would like to be able to convey a sense of greater certitude but I just don’t have that much to give.

  5. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. As with other non-profits I’ve worked with and those I’m in touch with regularly, I understand the challenges and uncertainty you face.

    In any situation there are always things within your control, things you can influence, and things outside of your control. First and foremost you must focus at least 80% of your time on the things you can control, develop a strategy around those and articulate it to your workforce regularly and give them updates as to the progress. Focus 20% of your time on the things you can influence and 0% of the time on things outside of your control.

    I would start with a discussion with your team members around those 3 areas and ask them to create strategies to focus their attention on solutions. This will give them some sense of control and stop them from expecting you to have all the answers. It will give them their “certainty” and “control” back to a certain degree and will reduce their reliance and expectation that you have to provide it for them.

    A number of non-profits I’m aware of in our area are beginning to look at their business model, or lack of one, and identifying ways to create a new one. This may include some type of fee for service programs, workshops, seminars, sponsorships, etc.

    You mentioned to me about your workforce being resistant to the “Changes” the world (or the perception that “you” are) is thrusting upon them. Remind them that “change” is the only constant in life and have them focus on the fact that every day they are asking the clients they serve to “change” their approach and results to improve their life, this is no different. They must be able to adapt to a changing environment, we all must.

    Hope that helps. Thanks, again for adding to the conversation.

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